Walking along the upper west side, you’re bound to wander past dozens of small, probably delicious, beautifully decorated restaurants. The UWS looks, to me, how I imagined New York would be before I moved here. Lots of impeccably dressed people who JUST left the gym, having a light lunch and glass of wine (probably sitting out on the sidewalk cafe) at one of these gorgeous, privately owned restaurants, before going home to get ready to go to the theatre, or something. Every now and then, because of my awesome job eating and drinking and then telling y’all about it, I get to pretend to be one of these UWS dream-people.
This time, I got the opportunity to try the newly-opened lunch menu, helmed by exec chef Eric Cope, at TESSA, on Amsterdam Ave. (I like Amsterdam Avenue. It’s JUST far enough from Central Park that the diners are predominantly New Yorkers and not tourists going to the AMNH.) TESSA opened a little over two years ago in this area. While there ARE dozens of small restaurants dotting the upper west, I recommend this one not only for its food, but because it’s a truly beautiful space, with a carefully curated wine list. (Show me a wine by the glass list with multiple options, and I’m in.) My friend and I were seated in the back area of the restaurant, with the most light, very near an entire wall used for wine storage. (The very best use of a wall, as far as I’m concerned.)
We were first presented with a couple of appetizers, including a Burrata and a Tart Flambé, and an Heirloom Tomato Salad. These are all fairly standard fare, in wine restaurants of a certain caliber, but the versions at TESSA are anything but standard. The Burrata was sitting on beets prepared two ways – puréed and sliced, and surrounded by watercress and hazelnuts. The cheese itself was doused in balsamic and sea salt, and the hazelnuts provided a much needed crunch to a dish that is typically all soft. (My friend and I were basically licking the plate at the end of it. It was embarrassing.) Tart Flambé, another common dish, is a traditional Alsatian flatbread made with white cheese, bacon lardons, and onions. For the record, I love tart flambé. Bread, bacon, cheese and onions? Some of my all time favorite things. This version, however, blew me away with the addition of speck ham, shaved black truffles, and figs. (Are you kidding me? Black truffles? Gimme.) The true surprise, for me, was how much the sweetness of the figs complimented the bacon and speck. It was absolutely fantastic.
Go to any restaurant in Manhattan from April to May, and you’ll inevitably find the menu covered in ramps. Ramps, for those who don’t know (and honestly, why should you?) are wild spring onions, and chefs love them. Go to a restaurant in early summer, and you’ll find a couple other ingredients chefs (and patrons) can’t get enough of – watermelons, and the brightly colored, sweetly flavored heirloom tomatoes. TESSA combined these two excellent things into one dish, and it is truly fantastic. The Watermelon & Tomato Salad is dressed with a lemon purée dressing, and tossed with feta cheese. The sweetness of the watermelon is beautifully balanced with the sharpness of the cheese and the citrusy dressing.
We were then offered two of their main courses. The first was a light, summery pasta, the Vegetable Zucca. The noodles themselves are shaped like scalloped bowls, and because of this, no two bites are the same. It was light and flavorful, with a basil pesto sauce, baby heirlooms and ramps. (Ramps!!) We also had an Ahi Tuna Sandwich, served on ciabatta. The tuna was perfectly cooked (read: barely saw heat) and the sandwich was completed with crispy pancetta and a wonderful sun-dried tomato aioli.
To complete our meal, we had a collection of Sorbets – raspberry, blueberry yogurt (which, amazingly, actually tasted like yogurt), and, my favorite, pineapple mint. (Perfect for someone like me, who hasn’t much of a sweet tooth.) We then had another dish we were pretty much licking at the end – the Panna Cotta. Panna Cotta is a traditional Italian custard dessert, generally served with fruit. This one was served with a small scoop of apricot sorbet, drizzled with dulce de leche (truly my Achilles heel), brûléed apricots and finished with black and blue berries. It was just outstanding.
When looking for somewhere to sit outside like a flawless, fancy upper west sider, look no further than TESSA. For more information on TESSA, check out their official site. For more pictures of my meal(s), follow me on Instagram @whitneygentile or use the hashtag #manhattandigest. Happy dining!